Friday, 9 October 2009

Thai To Die For?

Thai yellow curry at Tivoli's Bistro, Poble Sec.

I've walked past Tivoli's Bistro many times in the last five years, and every time I glanced at the menu and wanted to walk in. Then I peered at the prices and walked on, maybe stopping at the Cervecería Jazz for one of the best burgers in Barcelona or La Tomaquera for a trad Catalan feast on the cheap. 

Maybe it was years spent living in North London where you could pick up a fantastic, eye-wateringly hot Thai curry and rice in a pub for less than a tenner, or simply a belief that Asian cuisine in Poble Sec just couldn't be THAT good to warrant the outlay. The menu itself was highly extensive, and featured non-Thai food. 

Now both the prices and the choice have been reduced, and the hours expanded so that Tivoli's Bistro now offers a menu del día for €10.95 ex IVA, but including a starter, main course, a dessert and drink. Seeing this, I made a beeline for the place at the earliest opportunity. 

Entering the inexplicably Italian-named eaterie, everything is on display, from the stripped, bare-brick walls to the windowed kitchen. The restaurant is divided into two areas, with the back enjoying plenty of natural light. Photos of Thailand hang from the walls and the place has the air of unhurried efficiency.

The menu del día undergoes regular changes, and today it featured tuna croquettes with chilli dipping sauce or filo pastry parcels stuffed with grilled vegetables with a tomato and goats cheese sauce as starters. Mains were a choice of phad thai, yellow chicken  curry or five-spice pork with eggs and fried tofu. Cheese mousse with fig and raspberry coulis or rambutan and pineapple were offered as dessert.

Feeling highly unadventurous we both went for the tuna croquettes followed by the yellow curry. The first was delicious - crunchy on the outside, moist and flavoursome inside. The sauce was a well-chosen bottled sweet chili with a decent kick to it. 

In short, our expectations of the main course were raised, only to be somewhat dashed when the yellow curry arrived. Whilst featuring high quality ingredients, this was clearly a dish designed with the cautious Catalan palate in mind, and more of a stew than a curry. Perfectly edible, yes - but it certainly left me wishing I'd tried one of the other mains instead. Disappointed, we hoped dessert would be a return to form.

I chose the rambutan and pineapple - both tinned and perfectly acceptable as part of a menu del día. Mrs HD went for the cheese mousse and fruit coulis - which was homemade, delicious and essentially a deconstructed cheesecake, minus the base.

In conclusion, we decided that the meal was well worth the price, and would definitely be returning for a menu - or even a pricier à la carte treat in the evening. As I mentioned earlier, this has been drastically cut down, and the prices appear lower than before.  Starters are around €6.50, and main courses €13.50 to €16.50. There's also a tasting menu for €25 per person plus IVA which includes a glass of wine, water or a beer. And the wine? The wine is fine.

Tivoli's Bistro
Poble Sec
08004 Barcelona
Tel: 93 44 14 01 7
Smoke-free restaurant

"I want it Indian hot, not Spanish hot!"

The above is a constant refrain if you're a guiri in search of a decent hot curry in Barcelona. Despite having pillaged the New World and come back with - among other things -  chillies (and, indeed helping to introduce them to Asia) the Spanish are roundly suspicious of anything spicy. 

So wary are they that their language clearly distinguishes between the heat of excited atoms - calor (n) , caliente (adj) and that of chillies - picante (adj). When ordering a curry, for example at Moti Mahal - my favourite Barcelonese Indian and dining place of the stars - you will be asked if you want the food picante, medio or suave, for each dish, irrespective of whether that dish would normally be hot or mild. One must also remember that picante is very different for a Spaniard, and so I often explain that I'm British and I want my Chili Chicken superpicante.

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